- Buffy the Vampire Slayer -Revisiting 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Silent Episode, 21 Years Later
Welcome to Retro Recaps, where we revisit your favorite old shows and give them the modern recap treatment that they always deserved. Caution: snark ahead.
I have never read a Harry Potter book, I have never purposefully listened to a One Direction song, and, much to the consternation of every Millennial gay I have ever met, I have never watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s funny because fantasy with strong female protagonists is usually my jam. Just ask Netflix, which is still trying to convince me that I really need to finish Warrior Nun. (I really do!)
I totally would have watched Buffy, but when it was originally on in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I was in college and then freshly graduated. I was busy being young and not being able to afford a funky, new-fangled TiVo device.
Then I just never bothered to go back, particularly when people with the full Buffy box set on an IKEA shelf in their living rooms would say, “You have never watched Buffy? But it’s soooo good.” There must be a German word for “That feeling when people keep recommending a TV show to you and you’re sure it’s good but the more you hear about how good it is the less likely you are to watch it.” It’s probably Fridaynightlightsenfreude.
I decided to jump in feet first with “Hush,” the 10th episode of the show’s fourth season. It’s usually known as the “silent episode” and is generally ranked as one of the show’s best. This was probably a good choice, because it’s one of the show’s more “monster-of-the-week”-type episodes and fairly self-contained for a newbie Scooby such as myself.
The episode starts with Buffy in a classroom with a professor who says, “Language and communication — they are not the same thing.” Well, if we thought this episode was going to have subtext, there it is, popping up and slapping us in the face. The teacher calls Buffy up to the front of the class for a demonstration and tells her to lie across the desk before teaching assistant Riley comes over and gives her a kiss. Um, I’m sorry — I know we’re knee deep in post-#MeToo America, but was this ever OK? I was in college in the ‘90s and while I may have been having relations with a professor or two, it never happened with an audience!
We don’t really have to worry about Buffy being assaulted because we quickly find out this is a dream, something that is signaled when Buffy wanders down a hall and finds a little blonde girl holding a tiny wooden box and singing a creepy nursery rhyme. Blond children singing in the dark is the universal symbol for “Molly, you in danger girl!”
Buffy wakes up from napping in class and she and her best friend, Willow, who has yet to meet anyone’s mother, walk into the hallway together. Buffy is wearing a beige skirt that goes all the way down to the floor and has some sort of maroon and turquoise appliques at the bottom. Willow is wearing an army green skirt that is a deconstructed pair of pants sewn together and has some crazy, different-colored fabric extensions at the bottom of it as well. I know that each season on this show has a “Big Bad.” What was it for Season 4? Is it skirts? It must be skirts.
It’s not just skirts, it’s tops too. In one scene, Buffy is wearing a long pink shirt with a smaller pink shirt over the top of it. Later, Willow is wearing a flower-printed bustier with a sheer maroon layer on top of it. Everyone is always wearing either too many or not enough shirts. Are blouses the other Big Bad? Do they team up with the chunky platforms that Buffy is wearing? (I know what brand they are. They are SKETCHER. Yes, this is the first SKETCHER, when there was only one and before it was plural.)
The clothes in this episode really take me back. There’s one shot of everyone in the student union and it was like a Delia’s catalogue, with patterned separates and enough chokers to throttle an entire borough. The students of Sunnydale University are, in fact, the Wettest Seals.
Willow leaves Buffy to talk to her TA, Riley. I don’t know about this guy. He is cute, but not hot. He is like Jonathan Taylor Thomas wearing a muscle suit for Halloween. This guy has no throw down. Spike is obviously way sexier, even though he is only in a handful of scenes this episode (including inexplicably asking for more Weetabix — a British breakfast staple that is kind of like a giant Shredded Wheat — even though they have never been sold in the U.S.).
While they chat, Willow goes to a meeting of her Wicca group, but she’s mad they just want to talk about “menstrual energy” and have a bake sale and don’t want to, you know, cast spells and shit.
She goes back to her room and sits on her bed to talk to Buffy about it afterwards. Buffy is wearing a coral shawl. She wears a small collection of shawls throughout the episode. I do not remember this being a trend, but considering I spent all of *NSYNC’s best years in a perpetual ketamine comedown, I might have missed it. Buffy doesn’t wear a shawl draped over her shoulders like Stevie Nicks. No, she wears it so that it binds her upper arms to her sides and is tied tight in a giant bow that looks like something that you put on a Taurus you’re about to give your wife in a Ford commercial. It’s like a woolen straight jacket.
As they sit on the bed, Willow drinks a Virgin Cola. Was this a thing? I must have ketamine blacked this out as well. Was it made from actual virgins?
At the end of the first act, while everyone is asleep, we see a gnarly white hand that looks like something that would belong to Jim Carrey in The Mask opening up a tiny wooden box. It sucks up the breath of everyone in town as their whispers are carried with the wind. They all flow, tiny little vapors, toward the town clock tower. As the last one enters the box, the gross white finger closes it with a small click. This is the worst Kay Jewelers commercial ever. Every kiss begins with some stupid hippie box from the merch booth in the parking lot of a Blues Traveler featuring Rusted Root concert.
Then the camera pivots to show the man’s face. He has a large white head, dark circles around his eyes, a fixed grin showing off metallic silver teeth, and he’s wearing a spiffy suit and tie. This dude is totally The Mask’s albino brother. Too bad this clocktower is No SssssmmOOooookin’!
In the morning when everyone in Sunnydale wakes up, they learn that they have lost their voices. This leads to some great acting and, I will admit, pushes the boundaries of what television can do. Basically, half of this episode is just a bunch of voiceless action scenes and sight gags, some of which — like a price gouger selling white erase boards on the street — are quite funny. But at the same time, this means I actually had to, you know, watch the show. Watching is not what television is for. It is for listening to and occasionally glancing at while I scroll through Instagram on my phone.
Buffy is on high alert because, apparently, with all of their voices gone, people are concerned that the citizens of Sunnydale will riot. Not only does she go out to maraud the town, but she’s also joined unbeknownst by Riley and his weird anti-monster paramilitary group (which is woefully under-funded because there are only, like, six of them, and their underground layer looks like an abandoned TCBY). The town doesn’t really look leveled.
There are about a dozen people slowly lumbering around like zombie extras from The Walking Dead, a car has busted into a fire hydrant, and there is an oil barrel fire. This looks less like a riot and more like the opening number from Little Shop of Horrors.
Buffy and Riley run into each other on the street and they finally succumb to their simmering attraction and kiss in the middle of the road where Kelly Bensimon usually jogs. Then they split up for some reason. They can’t explain it because they can’t speak at all.
Next we see these voice-stealing wannabe Ursulas floating through the town in the middle of the night. Either that or they are riding invisible Segways. I can’t tell. We not only see the big-headed dudes, but also their scary little faceless friends clad in unbound strait jackets who scamper on the ground next to them. Why even bother putting them in strait jackets if you’re not going to bind them? Without the strait, it’s just a jacket. Also, can we give Buffy one of these so she can cut it out with the bondage shawls?
So, these extras from a Korn music video go with the Albino Masks into a dude’s dorm room and hold him down while they cut out his heart. Because he has no voice, no one can hear him scream. Then I guess that makes Sunnydale space, because that is the only place I ever heard of where people can’t hear you scream.
The next day, Giles finally figures out who the heck these guys are. He convenes the Scoobies in a classroom, who sit at their desks like a portrait of a band that would have a single on Now! That Is What I Call Music Vol. 273. He tells the kids that these monsters are called The Gentlemen and they steal people’s voices and cut their hearts out. Um, thanks for that, dude. Tell us something we don’t know.
Xander asks how they can kill The Gentlemen. Buffy, curled up in her chair, starts moving her hand rapidly in her crotch region. Is she supposed to masturbate them to death? That is something I learned could happen in Catholic school. Is it true? Giles says the only way they will die is if a real human voice can scream at them, which is why they steal all the voices while they collect the hearts.
What they’re going to do with the hearts, we have no idea. They are sort of like Pokémon in that you have to collect them all, but completely unlike Pokémon in that they serve no discernible purpose.
The only thing they don’t know is how to get their voices back. The way to tackle this problem? Oh, Buffy is going to go out patrolling and everyone else is going to sit on their overly long-skirted asses. Lazy-ass losers. But not Tara! She’s this girl from Willow’s Wicca group and she is taking out all of the satanic books from the school’s library, including The Satanic Verses, and she is going to find a way to get everyone’s voices back.
She leaves the library wearing a lilac skirt that is so long it touches both the treads of her Doc Martens as well as the grass she’s walking across. She trips on said skirt, and, as soon as she gets up, The Gentlemen are there trying to steal her heart. I told you that skirts were the demon behind all of this.
Tara runs away and starts banging on the doors in the dorm for help. She eventually wakes up Willow, and the two run through the dorm holding hands like a pair of drunk girls at a concert afraid of getting separated on their way to the bathroom. They wind up in the laundry room, where they lock the door and keep out the Gentlemen. There is a soda machine they try to move in front of the door, but they can’t budge it physically.
Then Willow tries to move it with her budding witch powers. It just gives a little shimmy like it’s about to start the Electric Slide. But then she touches Tara’s hand and the thing lurches across the floor, blocking the door. It’s gone from starting the Electric Slide to the full Macarena. The problem is the door opens outwards. The Gentlemen could totally wrench it open, kick in the soda machine, and slice, dice, and julienne these scared Indigo Girls without a problem.
Buffy finally figured out that The Gentlemen are headquartered in the clock tower, but when she shows up, she turns the corner and draws her stake on… Riley! Yes, now they know each other’s secrets, but they can’t talk about it because, you know, no voices. They start kicking some Gentlemen butt in the belfry (har!) during an actually very good fight that made me happy I stopped tapping on shirtless “fitness influencers” long enough to pay attention to the screen.
But it is not going well for Ms. Summers, and, just as she is about to get her heart stolen by these creepy white dudes, she sees the hippie box from her dream. She tells Riley to smash it and everyone’s voices rush back in a blur of computer visual effects.
Sitting on the floor, Buffy lets out a scream and the Gentlemens’ heads explode in a smoosh of green guts, like they are on the set of You Can’t Do That On Television and just collectively said, “I don’t know,” but in the later years when the slime was all gloopy not in the early years where it was just green-colored water. (Water drenches me from the heavens.) Ugh, I just said "water." Then their bodies fall backwards like mannequins, because, well, they were clearly using mannequins for this shot and the budget for an entire episode of Buffy is what they spent on braids for one episode of Game of Thrones.
With the Gentlemen conquered, Buffy and Riley meet up in Buffy’s dorm room to talk about their kiss and the secret that they know about each other. They sit on beds facing each other, their profiles on either side of our (then square) television screens. “I guess we have to talk,” Riley says. Buffy responds, “Yeah, I guess we do.” But they don’t talk. There is just a moment of awkward silence as they just stare at each other. Whoa man! That is deep. Like, even when we can, like, talk, we don’t really, like, really talk, like, really. It’s like when we couldn’t say anything, we had so much, like, to say, but now, you know, we just don’t.
This is the depth that Buffy is supposed to have? Like, I get it. It’s a lot more effort than most shows would put into a closing shot, but this has the philosophical profundity of two engineering majors who just ate their first edible. I get it, but do we really need it spelled out? Didn’t we already have a teacher at the beginning of the episode telling us that talking and communication are two different things?
After all the hype, I expected Buffy to hold the secrets of the universe. It didn’t quite accomplish that, but it did hold my complete attention for 42 minutes, which is more than I can say for the average episode of Selling Sunset.